CBS (Wednesdays, 8 P.M. ET)
CBS tries to jump-start the Jonathan Winters-Randy Quaid sitcom that stalled out as a replacement series last year on ABC. To that end, they've dumped Quaid's girlfriend, recast his young sons and added both an adult sister (Grand's Bonnie Hunt) and a mature-beyond-his-years teen (Vonni Ribisi) living with the family.
The new troops have expanded the comic potential, but the show has turned up the kiddie-cutesy factor, and the characters still don't really play well off one another, revealing a lack of chemistry that starts right at the top. The stark difference in the stare' styles—Winters is a manic portly pixie, Quaid a phlegmatic plodder—traps the slightly ungainly sitcom midway between realistic and ridiculous. As a result, the episodes rarely develop any comic momentum. At least Winters's ad-libs are now showcased better, as when he's on hold on a pay phone and hails an unseen passerby, Spiro? Spiro, is that you? I thought you got killed in prison."
USA (Wed., Jan. 22, 9 P.M. ET)
A woman (Jane Seymour) picks up the phone in the kitchen one day and, to her chagrin, overhears her husband on the extension groaning his way through a phone-sex encounter. The next day he disappears amid hints of foul play and shady business deals. Seymour reluctantly retains a private detective (Parker Stevenson) and with his help locates the call girl (Beth Broderick) who had been the missing husband's partner in aural sex.
This is a flabby, implausible mystery with a dull denouement. The fault lies not in the stars, however. Stevenson brings a slack yet engaging charm to his role. But the movie's best asset is Seymour, the limpid flower who is still TV's most ravishing damsel in distress.
PBS (Thurs., Jan. 23, 9 P.M. ET)
Those who enjoy reading mystery novels can rest their page-turning digits over the next three weeks as Mystery! unfolds a crackling good British police procedural. After years of demeaning desk assignments, Det. Chief Inspector Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) is finally assigned to head an investigation into the murder of a London prostitute. The case nearly cracks her before she cracks it, in large part because of the barely suppressed hostility of her sexist subordinates. In a nice touch, Mirren even tries to scare up a witness by appearing on one of those call-in crime re-enactment shows on the telly.
With her original script, writer Lynda La Plante has planted many a twist in this canny, well acted and cohesive miniseries, which costars Tom Bell, John Bowe, Zoë Wanamaker (daughter of American actor Sam) and Ian Fitzgibbon. Mirren is particularly strong as a woman who demands the opportunity to compete in a male-dominated field, knowing full well the-exorbitant pressure and scrutiny under which she will be operating.
The British accents and idioms can get dense, but don't let that throw you, you dozy punter. Word is that Mirren and the makers of Prime Suspect are already at work on a sequel. Bully for them.
TNT (Mori., Jan. 27, 8 P.M. ET)
It's 1957, and three drifters (Cybill Shepherd, John Laughlin and J.E. Freeman) from Mississippi have just rolled into Memphis to kidnap the grandson of the city's wealthiest black businessman (Moses Gunn) and hold him for ransom. The boy's distraught parents (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Law and Order's Richard Brooks) obey the kidnappers' warning not to contact the police. But the conspiracy snags when Gunn mounts his own investigation and Shepherd grows attached to the child ( Martin Gardner).
Slow but savory, the film, based on Civil War-historian Shelby Foote's novel September, September, establishes a complex relationship between the three mismatched miscreants and matter-of-factly maps the gulf between the races in the South of that era. Of course, Shepherd is the marquee player (she also cowrote the teleplay with Larry McMurtry and Susan Rhinehart), but with her usual patches of woodenness, she gives the only performance that is less than completely satisfying.
Lifetime (Tues., Jan. 28, 9 P.M. ET)
It's pretty nervy to remake Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1946 thriller, which starred Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.
In this update, Jenny Robertson takes the Bergman role as a reckless, over-imbibing jet-setter who is romanced and recruited by a smooth CIA agent (WIOU's John Shea, in the Grant role) to be a secret operative in France. With very mixed feelings, he sends her to seduce a sinister international arms dealer (Jean-Pierre Cassel, in the Rains role) who eventually takes Robertson as his wife. Marisa Berenson and Paul Guilfoyle costar.
The new Notorious maintains all the essentials of Ben Hecht's original plot. (Even the McGuffin—Hitchcock's catchall phrase for whatever it is the good guys and bad guys are wrangling over—is still down in the wine cellar.) None of the leads shines. Most crucially, Shea, TV's modest answer to Warren Beatty, can't convey the subtle ambivalence that Grant gave the character. Because of that, the climactic rescue scene lacks suspense.
Still, the espionage angle, the Continental setting and the looming of Hitchcock's ample shadow make this more watchable than most made-for-cable movies.
ABC sportscaster Al Michaels recently quipped that NBC is "running a halfway house" for former coaches. Good call, Al. Terry O'Neil, executive producer of NBC Sports, hired basketball's Pat Riley and football's Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells as novice broadcasters after each had guided his team to multiple championship seasons. The fact that none of O'Neil's human trophies has distinguished himself on the air doesn't matter. They are there to provide profile, not performance. In fact, their primary role seems to have become denying weekly press speculation about which team is trying to lure them back to the gam-e. (Riley did, of course, return to coaching this season with the New York Knicks). The whole thing has become tiresome. With the Super Bowl between Buffalo and Washington on CBS this week (Sun., Jan. 26, 6 P.M. ET), maybe we can finally turn our attention to football instead of the latest rumored job offer to an NBC announcer.